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Closer than Reality: the eye of Steven Chee

With a career that spans the pages of Vogue right through to advertising campaigns for the likes of Absolut, photographer Steven Chee is the man behind the lens of some of Australia’s best editorial. He has the ability to extract both the beauty and the mystery in his subjects, and his picture-perfect eye evokes a sense of transportation in the viewer, making the dreamlike imagery seem closer than reality. From the elegant to the provocative, Steven Chee captures each and every moment just as it should be.

It’s the kind of talent that almost can’t be taught. Steven won his first photography contest in grade six, effectively wrapping his future in the bag.
“My first interest in photography sparked after a trip into the outback with my parents. One of the passengers on our coach tour had a flash new Minolta SLR. I loved it and it all started from there,” he says.
“I took photography in years 10, 11 &: 12 in high school then studied at PIC which led onto my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Photography, at RMIT in Melbourne.”
After he graduated from RMIT, Steven worked across Sydney and Melbourne, assisting some of Australia’s most established names along the way, including James Houston, Jez Smith, David Mandelberg, Daniella Federici, Tony Notaberadino and Christopher Micaud. Still, the beginning was not without its challenges, and he counts being the new kid in the industry the time of some of his most frustrating moments.

“The biggest challenge was trying to get other people to believe in me as much as I did in myself.”

But when his big break came Steven proved he wasn’t leaving the spotlight any time soon.
“One of the breaks early on in my career was being asked to join DLM. It helped immensely in convincing people I had talent and was capable of producing quality images. From then on it was a series of mini breaks which all bundled up together got me to where I am today. One of those was my first major editorial in the now defunct Australian Style,” he says.
“One of my first advertising jobs was for Cue Design. They printed one of my images from the campaign as a huge billboard on William Street in Sydney. It was very rewarding and gave me a sense of accomplishment every time I drove past it on my way home from the studio.”

Today Steven is one of the most recognisable names in the industry, with work published in pretty much all of Australia’s major publications, including Oyster, Harpers Bazaar, RUSSH and Summer Winter, and the joys of the jobs are still inestimable – especially considering he is one of the rare few who gets to do what he loves for a living.
“Every job I’ve travelled out of the country has always had a super memorable moment, whether it be an image from the shoot or just an amazing dinner that I would never have experienced at home,” he says.
“The only thing I dislike is the uncertainty of freelance work. I think that’s why I work so hard while the work is there in front of me. However I’m positive I couldn’t sit at the same desk in the same office day after day and then catch the same train home!”

Citing his parents as his two strongest influences in getting him to where he is today, along with a bit of photographic inspiration from Philip Lorca di Cortia, Mario Sorrenti and Mikael Jansson, his main advice to aspiring photographers is to stay true to themselves.
“Shoot the stuff you love the most for yourself and not what you think people want you to shoot. People will realise your passion and it will get you noticed amongst the sea of competitors,” says Steven.

Steven Chee

words: Seema Duggal


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